Video Beer Review #1: Hot Water Brewing Kauri Falls Pale Ale

Let’s talk about beer reviews.

A friend and I have a running joke: if she was ever to start a beer blog, it would be called “This Beer is Nice”. Every single post would be the name of the beer with a single sentence: “This beer is nice”. Alternatively, if she didn’t like it, it would say “This beer is not nice”.

And when you get down to brass tacks, that’s kind of what all beer reviews do. Some do it with more words, some with fewer. Some with greater technical acumen, others with less. But in the end, it all comes down to a subjective opinion on whether someone likes a beer or not (“This beer is nice”).

And you know what? That’s fine. I don’t want to put anyone off contributing to the public discourse of beer in New Zealand. But beer reviews definitely need to be taken with a grain of salt, and a fairly large one at that.

Brewers reading beer reviews should consider the relative reliability of the source. A reviewer who has spent years in the industry, has brewing experience, or has beer judging experience/certified BJCP or Cicerone (I’m thinking of Phil Cook of The Beer Diary and Greig McGill from the short lived Awkward Beer Reviews), will probably give more accurate and constructive feedback than some schmo who’s decided to put their opinions on the internet.

Likewise, consumers need to be wary of taking any reviewer’s opinions as gospel. There are writers out there (like Greig and Phil) whose opinions I regard highly. At the same time, I know that my particular palate is quite different to both of theirs, so just because one of them likes a beer, I don’t automatically assume I will as well.

I recommend either finding a beer reviewer whose particular tastes overlap with your own. Or better yet, try everything and decide for yourself. Be your own beer reviewer. Start a blog even. I encourage everyone to take part in the conversation about beer in this country.

But you really do need to be wary of and acknowledge the limits of your own subjectivity (and I’m talking to the writers out there, both present and future). I’ve always struggled with writers who give reviews without qualifying them as opinion, particularly if they’re using a numerical/star rating.

If you want to assign beers a score according to your own system, that’s fine, but keep in mind one thing: In the end, someone writing “this beer scores 4.3 bottlecaps out of 5,” may sound intelligent, but it really isn’t any more valid than some loon, on his knees behind a table, burbling into a can of Kauri Falls.

Just for the record, I think Kauri Falls is pretty excellent. Ten ‘gurgles’ out of ‘hurgh’. But that’s just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

 

The Bottleneck’s Top 20 Beers You Must Try to Put on Your Bucket List Before You Die

Are you vaguely interested in beer, but not really an independent thinker? Do you need the approval of an expert or authority figure to tell you what to drink? Or perhaps you just need to quickly brush up on ‘craft’ beers, so you can sound knowledgeable down at the pub and make other people think you’re an expert in a field you only just heard of last week?

Well, your luck is in, because here is:

The Bottleneck’s Top 20 Beers You Must Try to Put on Your Bucket List Before You Die

Yes, next time you’re at a beer bar, don’t listen to staff, just rattle off this list and if they don’t have any of the beers on it, leave. Beacause if it’s not on the list, it’s not worth your time.

1. Emerson’s Pilsner

Yes, I’m starting uncontroversial here: this crisp Pilsner is a New Zealand classic. In fact it’s so classic, I’m including it here over a bunch of other Pilsners I like more because Emerson’s has more pedigree and if I didn’t include it here, I’d lose credibility.

2. Panhead Supercharger APA

Up until last year this would have said Tuatara APA, but since Supercharger came along, that’s all changed. Now if I recommended Tuatara over Supercharger, I’d look old fashioned. Wellingtonians now cry if they go into a bar and  this crisp, hoppy Pale Ale isn’t on tap.

3. 8 Wired Hopwired

I’m sure you saw this one coming too. This crisp India Pale Ale is another New Zealand classic. No one’s going to argue about this being on the list.

4. Mussel Inn Captain Cooker

Now we’re getting a little more unusual, but still playing it safe. Everyone likes Mussel Inn’s crisp manuka beer, and you can’t deny it’s distinctly New Zealand.

5. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

Ha! I lulled you into a false sense of security! You thought this was going to be an entirely New Zealand beer list. Well, it’s not. This crisp American IPA is a must try for any wannabe Beer Geek.

6. Garage Project Day of the Dead

Finally, we’re getting into the more exciting stuff. This crisp dark lager is infused with chillies and chocolate to make it smooth and spicy. It’s only available in November, so you’ll have to search hard to find it, but what fun are these things without a bit of a challenge thrown in?

7. Every Single Trappist Beer

I could list them all individually, but what’s the point? You’ll never be able to remember the difference between Chimay Red as opposed to Blue, and the numbering system other Trappists use is barely more helpful. But you can’t be a Beer Geek without trying at least one beer from each brewery, and when you’ve achieved this you will be presented with a special card that certifies your geek status. You will have to pass a test where you name all the breweries, otherwise your card gets revoked.

8. Westvleteren 12

Yeah I know I this beer is already listed in number 7, but it deserves to be mentioned twice. Telling someone else that you’ve tried this crisp Quadrupel is the beer equivalent of sex on a cloud, an experience totally justifies the $60+ price of a bottle in New Zealand. Because it’s not like other breweries in the world have succeeded in making beers equally as good. Just remember to really rub it in other people’s faces that you’ve had it and they haven’t.

10. Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude

This crisp Smoked Golden Ale is incredibly divisive. So divisive that a lot of people openly say it’s the worst beer they’ve ever tried. Secretly, I don’t actually like it: it tastes like you threw bandaids on a tire-fire. But you’re not allowed to be a Beer Geek without claiming to like Rex, so on it goes.

11. Heineken

I swear I wasn’t paid to put this beer on the list… Honestly. This crisp lager is not very exciting, but it belongs here because it will a) guarantee that even the most uninitiated reader can feel good they’ve tried at least one beer I name; and b) it acts a snob-insurance. When people in the comments section start calling me a total beer-wanker, I’ll be able to point to this and say “No, see: I like normal beers too!”

12. Schneider Aventinus

This crisp Weizenbock is included so any Germans reading this don’t get offended. Essentially the token black guy of beers.

13. The Alchemist Heady Topper

A while back this would have been Russian Pliny the Elder, but that’s sooo 2012. This crisp IPA is incredibly hard to come by, but I’ve had it so why haven’t you?

14. Croucher Pale Ale

Ah! What breath of crisp, fresh air! A crisp beer you’ve (probably) tried or at least can get your hands on fairly easily. Basically I’m throwing the less dedicated readers a bone here so they don’t stop reading before the end.

15. Russian River Pliny the Younger

This is the even hoppier version of the aforementioned crisp IPA from Russian River. They only release it at the brewpub for two weeks of the year, so it’s incredibly hard, but not impossible to get hold of some. I haven’t actually had any, but no ‘Beers You Must Try’ list would be complete without it, so on it goes.

16. 3 Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout

Another incredibly hard to get hold of beer (you pretty much have to enter a lottery to buy some). But it’s theoretically possible you might get your hands on it. Again, I haven’t actually had any, so I’m just going to copy-paste the description from the website. After all, that’s what most of these ‘Must Try’ lists do anyway:

A demonic Russian-Style Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar, this CRISP beer defies description. Available one day a year, in April at the brewery: Dark Lord Day.

17. Three Boys Golden Ale

Another easy, crisp beer, just to lull you into a false sense of security before the big finish.

18. Emerson’s Old 95

This crisp Old Ale went out of production years ago. However, there might be the slightest chance you find a forgotten bottle in a friend’s beer cellar. Steal it and drink it yourself. It’s worth it, and the guilt will eventually fade.

19. Garage Project Hazel Maple Mild

Oh you’re a Garage Project fanboy? Well have you tried this beer? I doubt it. This crisp Mild Ale (infused with hazelnuts and maple syrup) was released in 2011 during the 24/24. They only made 40L and the garage boys have never hinted at a re-brew. You will never drink it. I have though.

20. Silver Cat Angry Gummy Bear White Stout

Both this crisp beer and brewery have never existed and never will. I made it up so that you can never complete this list. You will spend your whole life with a tiny worm of niggling dissatisfaction that you never truly achieved full Beer Geek status. Remember me on your deathbed and know that I am laughing at you.

Because fuck you.


So now you have all the tools you need to become a fully-fledged Beer Geek. Take this list wherever you go. And remember, don’t listen to Beertenders (they’re petty, vicious, snobby liars), don’t explore the beer world in all it’s variety, don’t drink local, don’t take the time to form your own opinions on what you like/dislike (your feeble brain will lie to you) and don’t ever, ever, think for yourself. I’m better at thinking than you are.
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This is a satirical post. Whilst 99.9% of you will have figure that out, Poe’s Law dictates that at least one person hasn’t.
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Crisp.
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Lager Roundup Vol. 2: Contraband

One of the most frustrating thing working in a beer bar, or any bar for the matter, is annoying shit-heads sneaking in their own alcohol. It bugs the hell out of me: you spend a lot of time and money building a nice bar, you stock it full of wonderful beer; then some cretinous spanner with a bag full of Corona comes and takes up space that could be occupied by customers who actually understand what we’re all about and, you know, spends money.

And it is always Corona too; or one of its equally cheap and crappy siblings. No one ever sneaks a bottle of Panhead The Vandal into a good bar. You know the best beer I’ve ever caught someone sneaking into the bar was? A Cooper’s Pale Ale. And I’m damn sure they chose it because it’s dirt cheap here, not because they actually appreciate it’s subtle nuances.

Having said all this, we don’t actually get a lot of people sneaking alcohol into Golding’s. Our ‘customer base’ (nebulously defined as it is) are not the sort of people that sneak shit beers into good bars. Further more it’s even rarer that we catch any of them. So it came as a surprise that I managed to confiscate two unopened bottles of beer less than a month apart.

Now normally, I wouldn’t bother reviewing beers like these. It’s not sporting, you know? Like shooting low-hanging fruit in a barrel. But I don’t know, something about drinking shitty beer that we took off absolute munters appeals to me on aesthetic level: fate brought these beer to me. I’m meant to review them.

Then again, it could just be schadenfreude.

Beer 1: Flame

Yup, straight in with the good stuff: pure bogan juice. This particular bottle was confiscated during the Wellington Sevens, or as it’s colloquially known, ‘Munter’s Halloween’.

FLAME

Best enjoyed from a Framboise glass.

We cracked this bottle after our not particularly busy Sevens Saturday shift.

Aroma: N/A.
Appearance: Pleasantly golden.
Favour: Blearg
Over all notes: poor.

One of my colleagues summed it up nicely: “This tastes like someone poured brown sugar on wet cardboard”.

Hmm. Wet cardboard… That’s a sign of oxidation. I have no idea what conditions this bottle has been stored in. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that this bottle has been stored in less that optimal conditions (and possibly someone’s pants, to get it past the security gates of the Sevens Street party).

Moving on.

Beer 2: Tui

Alright, this shit just got real. This particular bottle was confiscated off a guy on a stag do pub-crawl. Any seasoned bartender knows that guys on stag dos are trouble. Usually more trouble than they’re worth. And if they’re in drag, it’s even worse (incidentally, this is why Hashigo has a blanket ban on men in drag, excluding performance artists and the legitimately transgendered). This guy wasn’t in drag; he was one worse still. He was wearing a unitard.

Anyone wearing a unitard to a pub is guaranteed to be a A-grade, certified cock.

Tui

Aroma: Bugger all.
Appearance: Pleasantly amber
Favour: Meh
Over all notes: You know what? Tui starts of pretty good. It’s got some mildly inoffensive nutty amber flavours, but just as they reach your tongue, they just sort of trail off into nothing. Again, one of my colleague’s summarised it nicely as having ‘the ghosts of flavours’.

You know I can’t grab your ghost-beer. Lets move on.

Bonus Beer Beverage 3: Wolf Blass Yellow Label Pinot Noir

Umm, do I have to?

Umm, do I have to?

Now I spied someone stashing these two bottles after closing, in an alcove outside Golding’s before heading of towards Hope Bros. My guess it that they’d been drinking one of them on the way into town and would’ve picked them up on the way home.

Silly person.

The one on the left was unopened, so I figured I wouldn’t catch some disfiguring disease from it. So, yeah… Lets review it….

Bugger this, I can’t do this any more. I think I’ve shot my quota of Barrel Fish, so here’s an actual piece of consumer advice:

Beer 4: Mussel Inn Golden Goose

Taken in the dying days of Summer...

Taken in the dying days of Summer. Paired here with a nice fresh Gerald Sandwich. 

Golden Goose has been described as “the Thinking Drinker’s golden lager.” For years it’s sat in the fridge at Hashigo as the ‘craft’ alternative to green bottle shite.

I love Golden Goose. It’s head and shoulders above corporate lagers, because it has that rare, almost-mystical thing that the corporate brewers like to claim their beer’s have: a full malt body. It’s light, but it’s full and well-rounded.

Alright we’re done here.

Straighten Up and Fly Right.

Ah, cider.

Yeah, this is is a beer blolg: beer is the love of my life. But cider? Cider is my Mistress. My bit on the side. My sneaky, drunken-5am quickie. My on the D.L. hook-up. My…

Er, not sure where I’m going with this anymore…

Anywho, I love cider, almost as much as I love beer, and if I ever develop Celicas, I’m opening a cidery (or just moving next door to Peckham’s). And recently, the cider world has seen the resurgence of a name we’d almost thought lost for good: Crooked.

For those not in the know, a brief history (with apologies for any factual error I make here. I’m not a journo, I haven’t done research and this is based off what I’ve heard from people in the industry. My own sideline perspective tallies with what I’ve been told):

Once upon a time there was the Three River Cider label, a.k.a. The Cider House Orchard. The only reliable (sorry, I mean easily Google-able) record of this exists in the dark recesses of RateBeer. They went out of business, possibly before I had ever tried them. My theory is that New Zealand wasn’t ready for that sort of cider yet, but there is probably a better explanation. They were bought up and became Crooked. Incidentally, you should definitely check out that website before an actual designer with any sort of competency gets their hands on it.

Would you believe me if I told you the vulture is wearing plate armour and holding an axe just out of frame? Cos it's true.

Would you believe me if I told you the vulture is wearing plate armour and holding an axe just out of frame? Cos it’s true. Source

Now Crooked cider was great: bone dry and full of flavour. It didn’t just taste like fermented apple juice; you could taste the whole damn apple. The flesh, skin, seeds, stalks and all. And it was jam-packed full of weird (delicious) funky-yeast flavours. And it was hazy. Hazy as fuck. In short, Crooked was great.

Ok, so I’m going from memories here. Maybe time has greened those pastures. Crooked was a least interesting. It was authentic, and got me excited at a time when it wasn’t even guaranteed that cider would contain and actual fruit, let alone apples (oh wait, we still live in that time).

Now you can probably tell what comes next in the story: the Vulture went the way of the Dodo. Without putting too finer point on the matter (or talking too much shit about people in the industry), Crooked was mismanaged into the ground. But there was always rumours that Crooked was coming back. And finally rumours coalesced into bottles on shelves. Bottles which it took me about a month or so to recognise, because they now look like this:

IMG_20140319_210200

I detect the hoofprints of a Graphic Designer. It’s generic, but at least it’s dynamic. Definitely an improvement anyway.

So straight away, you’ll notice that it’s crystal clear. Crystal clear as fuck. That’s ok, many great ciders are filtered and fined. The back of the label is a little more ominous:

IMG_20140319_233027

Again, I detect the hoof-prints of a marketing person.

It says a hell of a lot, without telling you anything at all. Whatever. How does it taste?

Um, you know when an old band gets back together, but half of the members have changed, and it’s alright, but it’s just not the same? Yeah, pretty much that.

Yeah it’s dry, but not like the old Crooked. If old Crooked cut like a scalpel, then new Crooked is more of a bread knife. It’s lost it’s skin-and-stalks flavour too; it just tastes like apples now. And it’s clean; too clean. Gone is the yeasty-funky-barnyard character. In short it’s lost pretty much everything that made it Crooked.

But wait just a moment! You know how I said the label doesn’t really tell you anything? Actually it does: “100% NZ Hawkes Bay Apples”, with a little map showing you exactly where the Hawkes Bay is in New Zealand? But the old Crooked Cidery (and most importantly the orchard which grew their amazing cider apples) was in the Wairarapa!

Suddenly all is clear. This is a revival of Crooked in name only. The bottle also lists a business address in Wellington. This cider is probably made under contract in the Hawkes Bay, from apples grown in that region.

Now that’s kind of disappointing, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad cider. It’s made with real apples and it’s not back-sweetened into oblivion. It’s just hell of a lot shallower than it used to be. It’s gone mainstream. But new Crooked is definitely a lot better than the overly sweetened products of the corporate breweries. And I’d take it any day of the week over Rekorderlig. And if you take anything away from this, I guess it should be that. 

A Beer Review, With Added Rant

I stopped reviewing beers on this bLOLg a long time ago. The main reason was I was boring myself and if I’m bored it must be ten times as worse for my readers. I am however, returning to the old school beer review for a moment, and for a good reason: statistics.

You see WordPress provides you with some interesting statistical data on your site traffic: what pages have been visited, where viewers have been linked from, what countries the IP address comes from and interestingly, what search engine terms are used to find your site.

It’s fascinating to see how people stumble across a blog. Mostly it’s people actually trying to find my site, searching ‘the bottleneck blog’ or similar. But sometimes it can be a bit more unusual. Case in point, this gem popped up after my discussion of the San Francisco beer scene:

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Click to enlarge.

Strangely though, the most common search term, accounting almost a quarter of all known searches, is a variation on one word: Hophugger. 

Now I’m not sure if this is searches from consumers, wanting to know more about the beer or from the producers, Treehugger Organics (don’t bother clicking on that link, the site is still under construction, a year after I first visited it) wanting to know how their beer has been received. What I do know is that this has made my review of Hophugger Pilsner my most searched for post since I started writing. So if only for the sake of site traffic, I thought I might as well review the new Hophugger beer, Coasters Pale Ale, almost exactly a year after I gave the Pilsner a good dressing down.

Warning:
If you just came here to get my opinion on the actual beer, skip to the last paragraph, because I’m about to go wildly off topic. Likewise, if you’re one of those people who can’t stand to hear criticisms of anything small breweries do (I call these guys the Anti-Beer-Snob Mafia), you should probably do the same. And as always, caveat lector.

Now last time, I gave Hophugger Pilsner a lot of stick for having a terrible name, an ugly label and being way off style (although I did also say the beer was quite nice). Two out of three of those things subsequently changed. The beer became a lot lighter and more Pilsnery, which I liked, and the label got an update. The name however did not change.

Yeah, I know they’re stuck with Hophugger, unless they do a complete brand overhaul. So there is no point it banging on about it, but just try something for me. Say “Hophugger” repeatedly, really fast , and at the same time, try not to think about how much it sounds like “Oh Bugger!” See what I mean? Still I guess they’re stuck with it, so lets not flog the dead horse any longer.

What I really took exception to though, was the label. And I was rather pleased to see that subsequent batches went from having the hideous green-on-green-on-more-green label to this much less hideous black affair:

It's not dynamic, but it's least legible.

It’s not dynamic, but it’s least legible. Source

It’s not brilliant, but it gets the job done. So lets see the new Pale Ale bottle then:

IMG_20140212_151025

Yeah, nah. Not loving it. The green on black at least popped a little and showed off the hop textures on the label. The white label looks completely flat and uninteresting. This beer looks as exciting as a can of Budget Brand Chopped Tomatoes. Yeah, I know it feels like I’m being unkind, but I gave Gisborne Gold a public flogging for less. Oh Gizzy, all is forgiven. You may look like you just attended a font-festival, but at least you look enticing on the shelf.

And that’s what this is all about: enticing people to drink your beer. The average punter (whose job doesn’t involve keeping up to date with every little thing that goes on the the New Zealand beer scene), will probably never have heard of Hophugger and will have nothing but the labels to go on. If the label doesn’t say “pick me, I look delicious!” then they’re most likely going to spend their money on something else. I’d love it if this wasn’t the case, but that’s not the way humans work.

Certainly I can say from anecdotal experience, this is true. When confronted with the labyrinthine fridges at Hashigo Zake, frequently the overwhelmed customer will jump on the nearest label that catches their eye. Now imagine you’re at Thorndon New World with 300+ lines of beer and no bartender to say “this one’s nice; label’s not much but the beer is really good.” See where I’m coming from?

Ok, sorry Hophugger. I’ll be honest: I’m using you to take a shot at the wider industry. I do feel bad that I’m railing against somebody’s labour of love here. But there is a serious point to make here and I’m going to use Hophugger to make it. A while back I took a subtle dig at the craft brewing sector for having terrible distribution, to the point of being unprofessional, and I suspect you could categorise this rant as a much similar bugbear.

Small breweries are competing for shelf space and customer attention against the likes of Crafty Beggars and Foundry Road, both of whom have dedicated brand managers. If small breweries are to flourish, they need to be able to compete with the big players, at least partly on their terms in the field of marketing and (I shudder to use this term) brand image, because that’s the first hurdle to reaching the customer. And once they’re past that first hurdle, they’re away laughing, because the quality of the product from small breweries is (99% of the time) far superior.

Whilst I’d like to believe that a superior product alone will speak for itself, that’s only true if it manages to get to the podium at all. Working ostensibly in retail, I can definitely vouch for the fact that appealing and dynamic brand image and product packaging (oh god! More marketing-speak!) is much more important that anyone in the industry is perhaps comfortable admitting.

In the craft/micro/whatever brewing industry, there are breweries that have an understanding of brand image and marketing: Garage Project, Yeastie Boys, Panhead, Epic, ParrotDog, Hallertau, Liberty and urg, Moa (although don’t follow their example) and those that miss the point entirely (I won’t name-names). And yes, it is frequently the smaller breweries and contractors that don’t want to pay a big, flash design company that struggle with this the most. But it’s not surprising that the breweries I listed above are what you might call the more (broadly speaking) ‘successful’ breweries.

And you know what, to your credit Hophugger, there are breweries that miss the mark by a much wider margin than you do.

Anywho, like a steampunk-paperweight, all I’m doing right now is making so much pointless hot air. A beer should stand or fall by what’s in the glass. So how does Hophugger Coasters Pale Ale taste?

Good. Really good in fact. Possibly great.

I said in my end of year roundup that breweries who make a ~5% pale hoppy thing with a solid malt body win at beer, and gave a list of examples I liked. Congratulations, add yourself to that list, because I really like this Pale Ale.

The malt character is caramelly, with a touch of biscuit. The hops are classic New Zealand hop green-fruit-salad, with just a hint of that aviation fuel burn that I like in small quantities. It’s a really, really good pale ale and I encourage anyone out there who sees it to give it a go.

So to finish, let me quickly summarise this post:

Blah, blah, terrible branding. Blah, blah, good beer.

If you take anything away from this review, let it be that.

Lager Roundup

I said a while back in my review of Gizzy Gold that the brewery had sold up and a new batch of rather nebulously defined owners were moving in. Since then I’ve heard rumours of changes at the brewery. Most notably new bottle labels and a new recipe. As we’ve been working through the backlog of bottles at Regional though, the change hasn’t come into effect until recently, when the new bottles arrived at Golding’s. So I decided I’d better see what shape the old girl is in.

Here’s the new bottle:

IMG_20140119_011924

First of all, it’s in a brown bottle, which I approve of. However, my initial impression is that I don’t like it. This reaction is though I suspect just the knee-jerk everyone gets when someone moves their cheese, so I thought about it a little deeper. The new label is certainly slicker, but somehow it lacks the rustic charm of the old label.

Gizzy bottle

Old Gizzy. Very rustic.

I wasn’t the only one who thought this. “It’s a bit of a font-circus,” said one of my colleagues. “It feels like some design student did it for a school project.” Fair point, it kind of does. There are lots of little do-dads on the label that a designer would think is ‘neat’, but as a consumer, I find them confusing and superfluous. And what’s with this neck label? Neck labels are a terrible idea. It’s hard to get them to line up, stick properly or stop them falling off. If you look closely, the one here is off-centre and has folded in on itself in the top right corner.

I do like that it still says “Natural All Malt Lager,” like that still means anything, but the bottle blurb feels like it was written by a marketing monkey:

IMG_20140119_012543

Click to enlarge.

I have no idea if Geoff Logan or anyone else at Sunshine Brewery surfed at all, but somehow it just all seems less authentic than the old label.

[UPDATE] – According to Twitter and the comments at the end of this post, Geoff was indeed a keen surfer. Neato. I still think that “a lightly toasted maltiness” is an inaccurate description, and a “hop back-bone” that is simultaneously “solid” yet “hovers” is rather silly and a little nonsensical.

I know it seems like I’m ripping on it unnecessarily, but there genuinely is a reason: the old label made Gizzy look like a local Heineken knock-off, which well, it kinda was. The old label felt safe. Stella-Suits that come into Golding’s would frequently pick it out of the fridge because it looked familiar. In the weird and confusing world that is the modern beer bar, The old Gizzy label promised them something safe and familiar that they could hold onto. And it delivered on that promise with the mild and inoffensive beer inside the bottle. And I can’t help feeling like they’ve departed from that with their new packaging.

But all this is so much hot air, relative to how the beer tastes. So how does this new recipe (if it is one) shape up?

Pretty good actually. It’s still an inoffensive lagery thing, but new Gizzy seems to have a little more zip than the old one. It’s hard to tell if this is a new recipe and they’ve bumped up the hops a fraction, or if it’s just a matter of freshness. Alternatively it could also be a matter of that most nebulous of influences: context.

The last Gizzy I drank was at the start of a big evening, which may have muddied my memory. On the other hand, this one I drank at the end of a busy shift, a time when even a pint of plain old tap water can taste like distilled rainbows. Admittedly both are pretty good contexts, but new Gizzy may have the advantage.

Either way, it still delivers the same pleasantly inoffensive beer (without the whiff of corporate tait) that we’ve come to love and adore. So for all my petty label-gipes, Gizzy still deserves it’s place in Golding’s fridge. Moving on.

Now I know to my regular readers (apprently I actually have those) this is going to sound absolutely bananas coming from me, but has anyone tried Singha recently?  It’s surprisingly good.

You see I have an obsession with noodle soups, and a little while ago I decided I needed some Pho Bo and a beer for lunch. My local Vietnamese joint had a rather sad beer-list, consisting of Mac Black and three different pale lagers (no Gizzy), so I chose Singha for reasons of authenticity. I was initially rather tickled that it turned up in a Magners glass.

I'm a big fan of glasphemy.

I’m a big fan of glasphemy.

I did however, find myself really rather enjoying the beer. The body is thin, almost anorexically so, but still there, and it has a slight lemony character that I found rather pleasing. It doesn’t go fantastically with noodle soup, it being only slightly more beer-flavoured than the broth in my Pho, but I do find myself revisiting this combo every time I’m in Little Hanoi.

I suspect the reason I like it so much and why I’m recommending it here is a matter of mathematics:

Low Expectations X Unexpected Quality = Positive Review.

The fact that I supposed Singha to be bloody awful and it was in fact pretty ok, means that it gets a big thumbs up from me. And it totally has nothing to do with me using this blog post years down the line as insurance against accusations of beer snobbery. Regardless of this, I can say with utter confidence that Singha is the best shitty Asian Lager I’ve ever had and if you find yourself at your favourite noodle house, you could do a hell of a lot worse than ordering one of these.

Now that’s what I call consumer advice.

The Bottleneck Awards 2013

So a new year is here, and a different anniversary is rapidly approaching: one year of this blog!

*Fweeeep!* (that’s the sound of those cheap party hooters they used to give us in the goodie bags at birthday parties when we were kids).

To mark whichever of those two occasions is more significant, I thought I’d look back on the last 365 attempted hangovers and see which ones I liked best. Now two warnings.

First of all, caveat lector: these are my opinions, and are meant for recreational use only. Don’t take them seriously. The second warning is this: I haven’t actually made any trophies for the recipients of these awards. If anyone feels strongly about this, they can feel free to craft their own ones. I suggest a tiny statuette of me, holding a pint. Or maybe I’ll just spray paint bottles gold and send them to the winners. If they ask really nicely.

Anywho, let’s get started.

The Green Bottle Piss Award for Best Lager

If I were ever to open a brewery, I’d make the most awesome Pilsner possible, then call it “Green Bottle Pils”, using a font where the L’s and S’s looked remarkably similar. I’d then probably serve it on tap exclusively, or in brown bottles just to be obtuse. But anyway, if I did make a Pilsner, it would probably be as close to the winner of this award as possible; and that is Panhead Port Road Pilsner (5.2%).

I’m not really much of a Pilsner drinker, but if I find myself making exceptions, it’s usually for this beer.

Feel Good Hit of the Summer Award for Best Light, Wheat or ‘Sessionable’ Thing

Eagle eyed readers will note that I already gave this award out months ago. That was back when I thought I’d give seasonal awards progressively over the year, rather than in one big orgy at the end. So once again, the winner is 8 Wired Haywired (4.6%)

Haywired

Now, not all of my awards are going to beers. I think it’s also important to give awards to the people and places and things that make the beer community special. So in that regard:

The Special Award for Services to My Alcoholism (A.K.A. Best Beer Bar Award)

Now this is tricky. I’ve stated before that Hashigo Zake is in my opinion, the best beer bar in New Zealand. But something about my personality won’t allow me to give this award to a bar I’ve worked at. So that means Hashigo is out, and Golding’s is too. Seeing as I didn’t travel much in New Zealand this year, that leaves…

The Rogue and Vagabond

I sense this is a controversial choice, but one I’m sticking to. I’ve heard a lot of criticism towards the Rogue, and I think a lot of it is valid *cough* bathrooms *cough*. But still I spend a hell of a lot more time there than I do at pretty much any other bar. The reasons are multiple: first of all, the staff are always trying to get me drunk. But I also get a sense of Gemütlichkeit whenever I go there. It’s got more character in each of its slightly uncomfortable barstools than all the Residences, Brus on Cuba, The Georges, or Curry Clubs of Wellington put together.

The ‘Doing Bad Cornish Accent Whilst Drunk’ Award for Best Cider

The world of New Zealand cider is a dark and scary place, populated by people with unconvincing Swedish accents and a race of weird anthropomorphic animals, who appear cute, but I’m pretty sure if we turned our backs on them for even a moment, they’d pull off their faces to reveal a race of alien space-lizards that will devour us whole.

It’s with this in mind, that I thank all known deities for Peckham’s. They’re lovely people, who make lovely cider. My particular cider of the year is the Wild Fermented Kingston Black (5.8%). Thank you Peckham’s. If I ever develop Celiacs I’m going to move in next door to you.

The Emerson’s Special Award for Selling Out

Oh don’t look at me like that. That’s exactly what Emerson’s did: they SOLD THEIR OWNERSHIP to Lion. That is the literal definition of selling out. Anyway, I bring up the Lion connection because it’s pertinent. But I’m going to get to that in a moment, because I’m going to start with the runner up:

BrewDog

Yes, when I heard they had NZ distribution I went “Aww YES!” Then when I heard it was with Independent Liquor (Asahi’s bastard child), and saw BrewDog plastered all over some of the worst bars of Wellington, I said “Aww NO!” I would have been willing to forgive them for the sake of the beer, but it’s not even traveled well. The only ones that still taste good are Hardcore and Dogma, but even then it’s not worth it for how much you have to pay and how unsatisfying the whole experience is. Every time I walk past The Residence or Bru on Cuba, with their BrewDog logos plastered everywhere, I just can’t help thinking about John Lydon shilling butter.

Back to Emerson’s now. You might think I get angry when the big boys try and play in the craft sector, but I don’t. For the most part it just makes me laugh; watching Monteith’s pretend they’ve invented dry-hopping, or Pinot-aging beer or whatever.

And you know who else is laughing? Lion. Because they’ve shown us exactly how a corporate brewer should get involved in the craft sector: Purchase a beloved brewing company, and then busily set about doing pretty much nothing to it. What you shouldn’t do is buy up a brewery, replace all the beers with pretty much your own product and put them in bottles that are pretty much identical to your existing range.

That’s right, this award goes to Founders. Yet another thing Independent Liquor/Boundary Road/Asahi has buggered up this year. Taking out first AND second place. Well done you, Foundry Road.

I get the feeling that narrow, sans serif fonts are all this Boundary Road's Designer knows how to use.

I get the feeling that narrow, sans serif fonts are all Boundary Road’s Designer knows how to use.

The Stout, Porter or Other Dark Award for Beers The Same Colour As My Soul

I agonized a little over this one. It’s possibly a case of too many great contenders. I wanted to give it to a few of my old favourites: Renaissance Elemental, Cassel’s Milk Stout, or Three Boys Oyster Stout, Invercargill Pitch Black. But that felt like choosing which of my beloved children was my favourite. In the end I felt like I should give this award to a newcomer, and I chose Kereru For Great Justice Coconut Porter (4.5%). I think if there is one thing Kereru has nailed it’s the <5% dark beer. Both FGJ and it’s unflavoured brother, Moonless Stout, are pretty much as perfect as any dark beer can be.

I find this equal parts cute and perplexing.

I find this equal parts cute and perplexing.

Die Lederhosen-Freizone Preis für den besten Bierfest

The award for best beer festival I attended in 2013 pretty much has to go to Hashigo Zake’s Pacific Beer Expo, after the rave review I posted recently. And so it does. Well done PBE!

The Irish Suntan Award for Paleness

I agonised pretty hard over exactly which Pale Ale to give this coveted award to. So in the end I said ‘fuck it: I’m giving it to the entire style category.’ That’s right, if you’re a brewer who’s made a good beer that’s ~5%, hop driven, with a decent malt backbone, you win. Not just this award either, but at beer in general.

Seriously, Pale Ales are the in-thing, and not just right now, but (if America is anything to go by) for the foreseeable future. At Golding’s and Hashigo, they’re the only thing that consistently sells faster than Pilsner. They’re pretty much a licence to print money.

Recipients of this award include, but are not limited to:

– Tuarara APA (both versions)
– Panhead Supercharger
– ParrotDog DeadCanary
– Townshend APA
– Croucher Pale Ale
– Epic Pale Ale
– Funk Estate Oh Lordy!
– Liberty Oh Brother
– Behemoth Chur!
– Garage Project Trip Hop
– Brew Moon IPA
– Hallertau Statesman

Feel free to mentally add beer I’ve missed here.

The Tey-Tappers Special Award for Best Beer Writer

I don’t often read a lot of New Zealand beer writing. This is mostly because, working in the industry, I’ve already heard most of it before the print deadline hits. There are however, a couple of exceptions.

Runner up for this award goes to Jono Galuszka, for his rather pleasant From Drinker to Brewer series and for bringing a little beer enlightenment to the murkier sections of the North Island. Jono hits the right tone between geeky and accessible. Well done Jono.

Jono

Possibly most handsome Beer Writer award too. You decide…
Source.

And the winner is: Matt Rilkoff.

Yup, that right. The man who describes craft beer as ‘petulant’, ‘complex and haughty’ and ‘prohibitively expensive’. The guy who thinks Tiger is the be all and end all of beer. The one who fellates any company that sends him free beer. The chap who barely seem to like any kind of beer that’s not limp, boring lager. The fellow who doesn’t even seem to like drinking beer and writing about it. Yup. That’s my beer writer of the year.

Here’s my favourite Rilkoff quote:

“Professional beer tasting is often a lonely job. Far from having People flock to you for beer tips, they resent you for the beer you get to drink and castigate you if you show anything but absolute reverence for craft beer. It’s tough.”

Um… No mate, it’s not. You’re getting paid to drink beer and writing about it. If you’re not enjoying that, then as the actress said to the Bishop: You’re doing it wrong. You’re missing the point so hard, it’s surprising the Americans haven’t offered you a job as their Bomber Command.

Now having said that, Rilkoff is genuinely my beer writer of the year, because I seriously enjoy his writing. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, because I suspect it’s a mild form of Schadenfreude that I’m experiencing. But since he’s not actually suffering misfortunes here (in fact he’s being paid to write about beer… seriously mate, if you don’t like doing it, I’ll do it for you), then I feel I can laugh at his columns without being an asshole.

(Un)Fortunately, it seems that most of the Taranaki Daily News’ beer writing is now done by Warwick Foy; who is much more qualified (in that he enjoys, well, flavours). But don’t ever want Rilkoff to stop writing about beer. He’s just too enjoyable to read.

The IPA Award for Services to the Hop Shortage

This again, was a very tough award to give. The reason is just too many worthy candidates. After a little soul searching though, I came up with an answer. The award goes to not one beer, but a series of them: Twisted Hop Hopback Series (5.8%).

This is an NZ Cascade-based beer, that uses different American hops in the different editions. The base beer is lovely, but the Citra, Simcoe, Centennial and Chinook editions each have their own unique charms. Then there’s the Double Hopback (8%) an imperialised version which reminds me of a super-juicy American Barleywine.

I will say that I would like to see some slightly dirtier, more bitter and angry, non-c-type hop versions of this beer (eg Sauvin). But over all, I award the Hopback series for it’s balance between being geeky as hell, yet still all excellent IPAs.

The Moa Special Award for Biggest Dick Move of 2013

In such a small industry, it would be nice if we could all be friends, but the reality is, that’s not always going to be the case. I’ve seen a fair amount of dickish behavior from industry people. Moa should probably be awarded this trophy indefinitely, having a virtual monopoly on being a dick in the craft beer industry. But that would also be like shooting fish in a barrel and as global fish populations are under threat right now, I’m not going to do that.

Anyway, I think the biggest dick moves are ones that undermine the ethos and integrity of the craft industry as whole. We are small companies fighting for market share against big corporations. We are supposed to help each other out, not dick each other over. As Soren Eriksen once explained it to me (in his sexy Danish accent):

“In the craft beer industry, it’s not about getting a bigger piece of the pie; it’s about growing the pie. As the pie gets bigger, each of our pieces gets bigger.

This is the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ attitude. In this regard, when a craft-beer company wants to expand, they should look for unexploited niches and opportunities, they should collaborate with others around them, or they should build upon and expand their current operations. What they shouldn’t do is look at someone else’s piece of the pie and say “I’ll have that!” and try to hack off a chunk before anyone notices.

Yeah I’m looking at you, Tuatara. Trying to steal Rogue distribution off of Beer Without Borders/Hashigo Zake. A local brewery trying to increase business by importing and distributing beer from overseas? That’s cool. Importing and distributing a brewery that’s already legitimately being brought into the country by another dedicated craft beer distributor? That’s not cool. That’s a dick move.

The Pucker-Up Award for Best Sour Beer

I’m going to start with the runner up here: Mussel Inn Lean Lamb (4%). It’s weird, dirty, bacterial, borderline disgusting and fucking sour. Love it.

The Winner: Liberty/Zeffer How do You Like Dem Apples (10%). I like tart cider, I like sour beer. Dem Apples is pretty much the best of both worlds. 

The “Am I Drunk Yet?” Award for Best Strong/Imperial/Strong Belgian/Whatever Beer

This one goes to 8 Wired Grand Cru (10%). There’s nothing I can say about it that I haven’t already said here.

DSC_0686

It’s laughing at me. I want to brush my teeth with it.

The Bastard Upstart Award for Best New Brewery.

To the uninitiated, it probably would seem like the winner of this award has appeared out of nowhere, making a varied range of excellent beers that can be found all over Wellington. Industry insiders on the other hand, have known the brewer for quite a few years.

Still it amazes me sometimes that six months ago I ever managed to fill a balanced tap lineup without Panhead Brewery. When they opened, I had suddenly at my disposal, a brewery with a slick image and branding, reliable delivery, instant popularity, and most importantly, great beer. If I was religious I’d forgive myself for thinking they’re the second coming of Christ.

Mike from Panhead is not Jesus, but he does have a nice beard.

Mike from Panhead is not Jesus, but he does have a nice beard.

Speaking of which:

The “Jesus-Rollerblading-Christ!” Award for Single Pint of Beer I Enjoyed The Most.

So named after the exclamation I made whilst drinking it. I wanted to give this award to the bottle of Lagunitas IPA I drank whilst sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

P1020780

This was pretty fuckin’ sweet.

But there was one other beer I enjoyed more; that made me shout “Jesus-Rollerblading-Christ, that’s fucking good!”

It was a pint of Townshend Black Arrow Pilsner (5%). It was at Hashigo in the middle of Summer, I’d just come from an hours worth of strenuous Charlestoning, I was exhausted and sweaty and I think the whole pint only lasted thirty seconds.

The Green Bean Saison Award for Fruit/Spiced/Flavoured/Otherwise Meddled With Beer

Choosing a winner for this award was tricky, as we had two gangs breweries each with a gaggle of experimentally flavoured beers. On one side, there’s Yeastie Boys, with it’s posse of serious-faced tea-beers, led by the charismatic Gunnamatta (6.5%). Opposing them was Garage Project with their ethnic mob of chilli beers, fronted by their spicy leader, Day of the Dead (6%). And choosing a winner from this lot is like watching a gang knife-fight, in that no one’s the winner, or in our case, everyone’s the winner in the end.

Short of an actual knife-fight between brewers, which I’m sure we don’t want, I’m going to settle the matter by awarding thus:

Runner Up to Yeastie Boys Wendy (6.5%), the Belgian tea stout. The winner goes to Garage Project Venusian Pale Ale (7.5%). Those being the two beers from the lot I actually want to drink the most of.

Awesome poster, too.

Awesome poster, too.

The Old-Hand Award for Best Established Brewery

I like to think of the winner of this award as the (slightly) older chap in the corner, who very quietly does what he does and does it very well, whilst the young guns (usually contractors) are standing around making a hullabaloo about their big, outrageous beers. Then once in a while, when he feels like it, he gets up, takes them all outside and shows them all how it’s done.

I’m talking about Renaissance Brewing, that reliable (relatively) old workhorse who we don’t always pay enough attention to. They make a range of really great beers that we don’t see on tap as often as we should. then every now and again, they whip out something truly amazing, like their annual Tribute Barleywine (10%), their Age of Raisin (6.5%), or their Scotch on Rye (4.5%).

Renaissance won Champion Brewer at last years BrewNZ awards (which I totally called). And I honestly think they deserve it. I love those guys so much.

The Renaissance crew at the BrewNZ Awards. Yes, their Brewer Andy wears a kilt.

The Renaissance crew at the BrewNZ Awards. Yes, their Brewer Andy wears a kilt.

The Bottleneck’s Beer of the Year

The beer I enjoyed the most this year, is probably the same beer I enjoy the most every year. If I had a beer-soulmate, it would probably be this beer. It’s the only beer I drank three pints of in a row, something I never do when I had the option of drinking something else.

It’s 8 Wired ReWired Brown Ale (5.7%).

Not an exciting, obvious or even perhaps deserving choice. It’s just a beer I really, really like. Yeah I know that’s terrible consumer advice. Kind of illustrates the pointlessness of personal blog awards, really…

Oh well, too late. You’ve read it now.